Seed Saving Blog
What In the World is Happening with Grain?
- August 26, 2022 |
In May of this year (2022), The Great American Seed Up reported on predictions of impending worldwide grain shortages and rising food prices. We have seen these predictions played out this summer, although there are some reasons for hope on the horizon. If you want to review a summary of the problems, read on. If you prefer to skip to the positives and action steps, scroll down to GOOD NEWS.
This is what we are hearing as of August 2022:
Russia and Ukraine: The war in Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, has severely pinched the world supply of grain and cooking oil. Prior to the conflict, 98% of Ukraine’s grain exports were transported via the Black Sea, which Russian ships blockaded in February, triggering a global food crisis. Under a deal signed in July, Russia agreed to a maritime “humanitarian corridor” free of military vessels through which cargo ships could move grain out of Ukrainian ports via the Black Sea. The first grain shipment allowed to leave Odessa port following the deal departed Ukraine on August 1st.
Currently, Russian grain and fertilizer exports are outpacing Ukrainian exports through the Black Sea. But should the balance shift, it is unclear whether the blockade on shipments will continue to ease. Additionally, the agreement is set to last for 120 days, which may not be long enough to ship all the grain backed up in Ukraine’s silos ahead of the coming harvest. And hesitance by insurance companies to insure merchant ships entering the Black Sea corridor does not help the situation.
Ukraine’s Particular Importance: According to the United Nations, prior to the war, Ukraine and Russia were the first- and third-largest global wheat exporters. The role played by Ukrainian agricultural produce in international food security should not be underestimated. Long known as the breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine has in recent years become an important source of grains worldwide. On the eve of the Russian invasion, it was estimated that Ukraine was providing food for as many as 400 million people around the world. Ukrainian officials stated in early 2022 that this figure would rise to a billion by 2030, representing around one in nine people on the planet.
The war reversed this growth. Government estimates currently expect that Ukraine could harvest approximately 50 million tons of grain this year, compared to 86 million tons in 2021, due to the loss of land to Russian forces and diminished grain yields.
Precariously Low Supplies: Global hunger has increased from 135 million people acutely food insecure in 2019 to 345 million in 2022 (according to the World Food Program.) 50 million of those are edging on famine. Ukrainian grain, in particular, is vital to millions of people in Africa, parts of the Middle East and South Asia, who are already facing food shortages and, in some cases, famine.
Protectionism: To make matters worse, scarcity and inflation are spurring countries to put export controls in place. At this writing, 14 countries are implementing protectionist measures, banning wheat exports in an attempt to prevent domestic shortages and stabilize rising food prices.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world: Argentina is experiencing its third straight year of La Nina weather conditions, which create a complex planting scenario. Farmers are choosing to plant barley as a winter crop because they expect a lower degree of government intervention in barley markets. And many farmers have planted soybeans rather than a combo of wheat and soy due to lower production costs. Drought and low temperatures have delayed wheat planting and crop progress, and yields are expected to be lower than usual.
U.S. farmers face high prices for supplies: Fertilizer, seed and other agricultural products needed to raise crops are as much as four times higher this year than last, while crop prices have roughly doubled.
United States Food Price Index: According to the USDA Retail Food Price Outlook, food prices were 10.4% higher on average in June 2022 than they were in June 2021. Coming in 2023, food-at-home prices are predicted to increase between 2.0 and 3.0 percent, and food-away-from-home prices are predicted to increase between 3.0 and 4.0 percent. USDA ERS – Summary Findings
Hunger Relief: The first humanitarian ship chartered by the UN World Food Program to transport Ukrainian grain left Odesa ports bound for Ethiopia on August 16. https://www.wfp.org/stories/bulk-carrier-sets-ukraine-grain-wfp-first-start-war
North America: The USDA report for August 2022 shows that the Canadian Prairies have received ample rains this growing season to recover from the devasting drought in 2021/22, increasing production by 13.3 metric tons. The U.S. Northern Plains and Pacific Northwest have recovered from major drought last year, although year-to-year growth in production is constrained by drought in the Southern Plains. Despite this, the United States is projected to increase wheat production 3.7 metric tons in 2022/23 from last year. Wheat Outlook: August 2022 (usda.gov)
Despite the challenges that the world faces, we are not helpless. Gardeners have the opportunity to make a difference for us, our families and our communities. Here are actions we can take to help:
Focus on Saving Seeds: Food shortages and rising food costs tend to trigger a rush to buy garden seeds. High demand triggers scarcity and drives up prices. One of the best things we can do is save seeds from our own gardens and share them with others.
What Else Can We Do? The world can only hope that a strong wheat harvest will save the most vulnerable countries from increased food instability. But if that is not the case, gardeners have skills that can help to ameliorate the situation.
- Grow food: One backyard gardener may not make much difference to the food supply. But together, millions of gardeners across the world who commit to growing a portion of their own food can make a significant impact.
- Grow your own root cellar items. These are foods that can either stay in the ground longer or stored longer than other foods. Onions, carrots, garlic, and apples can be harvested when you are ready to eat them. Winter squash can be harvested and stored for several months (as can apples if you pick them when they are just mature but not perfectly ripe.)
- Grow food without chemicals: Constrained access to fertilizers is one of the factors driving the wheat crisis. Using natural systems to feed plants and soil, like composting, no-till soil management and chop and drop mulching, backyard farmers can grow wheat without chemical fertilizers.
- Grow food in 3-D: Find a place to begin cultivating a fruit tree guild (or a food forest if space allows.) Tree guilds take time to mature, but they can produce large amounts of food with few inputs once they are full grown.
- Grow grains: Wheat supplies may be tight, but consider that a plot roughly the size of the average kitchen table can grow enough wheat for a hefty loaf of bread. And you can get two harvests out of one plot by planting winter wheat in the fall, followed by spring wheat after the winter wheat harvest. See examples of gardeners growing wheat at https://fullcirclefarm.blog/2020/07/29/growing-backyard-wheat/, http://growaloafofbread.blogspot.com/2013/08/we-harvested-wheat.html, and https://fromscratchclub.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/home-grown-wheat-done/.
- Grow alternatives to wheat. If growing grains is not feasible, there are alternatives. Some gardeners prefer to cultivate pseudo grains, like amaranth or quinoa. Zucchini and other vegetables can be sliced or spiralized to replace wheat noodles. Beans can replace the bulk and fiber that grains provide in our diets. Some beans can even be ground and used as a flour substitute, garbanzo and mesquite beans included. Read Diet for a hotter climate: five plants that could help feed the world | Environment | The Guardian
- Use your skills to improve your family’s food security: Food prices across the board have doubled since April 2020. And empty store shelves have shocked and frustrated shoppers who struggle to find the goods that they need. Food production is rapidly becoming a sought-after skill, for good reason. Gardeners can create their own food security independent of the global food supply, a valuable advantage when times are tough.
- Share knowledge and food with others. Pass on your skills to help friends and neighbors grow their own food. This benefits the people in your sphere and strengthens community resilience. And it is fun to grow and share the bounty with others.
- Learn how to store food for the long term: The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a tremendous resource for learning to preserve food. The website is a trove of research-based education and recipes for canning, freezing, dehydrating, curing and smoking, fermenting, pickling, and storing foods, as well as making jams and jellies. The site is located at https://nchfp.uga.edu.
- Give to organizations that help people experiencing food insecurity locally as well as globally. Ukraine is a top supplier of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil to developing countries. Before the war, half of the grain the U.N. World Food Program purchased for distribution came from Ukraine. Disruption in the flow of grains from Ukraine is only one factor affecting global hunger. High prices and shortages make it harder for humanitarian organizations to provide assistance. Supplying funds to these organizations helps them to access needed goods when they become available and to distribute them as quickly as possible.
- Put aside staple foods for your family (and others who are important to you.) Even if your grocery store is fully stocked, it will not take long for food to run out in a crisis. A list of suggested is staple items is here: com/resources/25-must-have-survival-foods-put-them-in-your-pantry-now_03042013/. If you already have an emergency pantry, go through it to make sure that foods are still good and in stock.
- Practice seed saving. Having a storehouse of seeds and knowing how to grow them and save seeds from the next generation is one of the best ways to ensure food security.
- Get to know your neighbors. Practice hospitality, swap seeds, barter, share, garden together, learn together. Communities are more resilient, and people are more secure when they are able to pool their resources and knowledge.
The Great American Seed Up is working hard to support gardeners with the seeds they need to improve their own food security. We recently released a new Baker’s Bundle comprised of 7 different wheat varieties – enough seed to divide into generous portions for 10 people.
Survival Seed Bundle reflects a collection of seed varieties we would want if supply chains were interrupted and we could not get seeds from our trusted suppliers. We have chosen seeds that are long-standing favorites, nutritionally dense, and provide lots of diversity. These seeds are also easy to save which increases both the number of potential seeds over time and the value. With at least 300 of our generous portions and a Seed Saving Book, this bundle offers a perfect start for any gardener after an emergency.
GASU also has several other bundles of vegetable and flower seeds to help you stock up and keep your garden growing. Get your seeds here.
And if you happen to be in the Phoenix area, register to attend the Phoenix Seed Up on November 4th and 5th, 2022. This is a live, in-person event held in Phoenix, Arizona. Registration and more info can be found here.
1LaCapria, K. (2022, May 23). ’10 Weeks of Wheat’ in Global Reserves? Truth or Fiction? Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.truthorfiction.com/10-weeks-of-wheat-in-global-reserves/
2Hays, Ron. “Nationwide, Winter Wheat Was Rated 28% Good to Excellent, the Lowest Such Rating since the Drought of 1989 Ro.” Oklahoma Farm Report – Nationwide, Winter Wheat Was Rated 28% Good to Excellent, the Lowest Such Rating since the Drought of 1989, 23 May 2022, http://www.oklahomafarmreport.com/wire/news/2022/05/02755_CropProgress05232022_163658.php#.YozmO6jMI7c.
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